Recently I was shopping in the supermarket with an environmentally minded friend. She told me that of all the tinned tuna one can buy in France, SuperU's own brand is one of the most ethically sound choices (she'd got the information from Greenpeace). Phew! It's the one I buy, on the now rare occasions I buy tinned tuna. It's line caught and half the price of the fancy brands with Label Rouge certification. Win-win hopefully. But still not something to consume too much these days.
Somewhat to my surprise, when we were in the Pyrenees in July 2021, we only saw one gentian plant. It was this one in the photo, a dwarf gentian Gentianella sp. This is in contrast to the dozens of gentian species and hundreds of gentian plants we saw in Switzerland in July 2018.
I think this one must be Field Gentian Gentianella campestris (Fr. Gentiane des champs).
I wrote yesterday (actually I wrote on Thursday evening, but it published yesterday) about our adventures with electricity last Thursday morning.
I am glad I did, because at 2:10am yesterday morning the electricity flicked off, flicked on again, repeated the process, and then flicked off with a bang. The bang wasn't in our house but sounded like it had come from the street. After checking that it wasn't something in our house exploding I went to bed, only to be wakened twenty minutes later by flashing lights and a slowly moving truck
Susan assumed it was the garbage men, I assumed it was the electicity company, but after getting out of bed I discovered it was in fact the Fire Brigade. Speaking to one of the Pompiers confirmed that the electricity was "coupée" for a short time.
I have no idea what they were investigating, because a wander of the streets in the morning didn't show any obvious damage. Checking the "where has my electricity disappeared to" website showed that most of the northern half of Preuilly was without electricity but that they were on the job and normal service would be resumed at 08:00. At 08:30 that was amended to 14:00, and then the electricity returned at 10:30.
So you can share in our excitement, a short wobblecam video taken with Susan's phone.
We had no power. The street lights were on, but everything electrical in the house was off. I went for a walk up the street to see if anyone else's lights were on, but it appeared not, although there were lights on in the windows of houses at the bottom of the street. Then I encountered our neighbour taking her car from the garage, and she said yes, she did have power.
Odd. I checked our Linky (the you beaut communicating power meter) and it was blank. By this time I had connected my tablet to the internet, and following the instructions, pressed buttons to see what message it was giving me. According to the Enedis website it should have said something - but it said nothing.
So Susan rang Enedis, and after five minutes on hold, got through to a person - a man who took things slowly and repeated himself so the poor confused Anglos at the other end of the line understood. We reported we had no power, and after a while he said he would send a technician.
We also sent a text to Tim (who with his wife Carolyn lives in a house backing on to our garage). He was checking his fuses, because although there was power and lighting in the house, there was no power to his heating boiler. He then sent another message to say the Enedis said that power would be returned by 13:00, and that it was only one phase of power that has fallen over, so it was one house in three on that circuit (I may not be being over technical here...) that had lost power, and his boiler was on the same phase as our house.
It was obviously on the same phase as our other neighbours, because 5 minutes later Christine knocked on our door and asked if we had power, and I was able to pass on the message.
On Sunday, despite the miserable weather, we walked twelve and a half kilometres around Boussay.
Snowdrops in a garden between the end wall of a house and the main street in Boussay.
Shrine to the Virgin Mary in the Lourdes grotto tradition, in the woods.
Polypody fern Polypodium sp.
Wildlife crossing in the forest. It was being monitored by a trailcam.
The sign on this tree says it is managed sustainably and is certified as such. It urges you to choose wood certified under the PECF programme [link].
We encountered the hunt in one parcel of forest. It didn't seem like these guys were going to see any of the action, but they didn't seem bothered.
In the course of conversation I learnt that this year there has been a
problem with the game that is shot being found to be suffering from an infected old bullet wound. This makes them unsuitable for butchering and consumption so they have to be buried. Theoretically hunters are obliged to track down and dispatch wounded animals, but some aren't as diligent as others. There are recovery teams with small dogs that are trained to track wounded game but sometimes the wounded animals genuinely elude the hunters. It could also mean there are poachers around, hunting in the dark and not respecting the rules.
Sign forbidding 4x4 and heavy agricultural vehicles on this trail between October and April ie the wetter months when the trail would be damaged by this sort of traffic.
Several of the trails were being monitored by trailcams where wildlife obviously crossed.
The land is heath (Fr. landes) in transition to forest, cycling through various ecological stages as timber is cut and regenerates naturally. In this parcel the mature oak and pine has been felled and birch dominates for the time being.
A neatly restored bread oven on the end of a farmhouse.
A big solid old farmhouse on a ridge, dating from the days when your home had to be a fortress.
On Saturday I deliberately made a small detour in my journey to somewhere else and stopped off in a tiny village crammed higgledy piggledy into a valley between Chinon and Azay le Rideau. The reason was that I knew there was something extraordinary in the village, and I'd never seen it.
It is officially designated 'un arbre remarquable' and the thing that is remarkable about it is not the tree per se but where it is growing.
The tree, a Sessile Oak Quercus petraea (Fr. Chêne sessile) estimated to be around 300 years old, has grown into the wall of the church at Cheillé between two buttresses, and the roots have penetrated very deeply into the thick walls, although not gone all the way through as no trace of the tree is visible on the inside of the church. The trunk emerges from the wall more than a metre above the ground, so the tree is genuinely growing in the wall, not at the base. It has certainly been in the wall of the church and well established since the mid-19th century as local families have handed down their memories of it from one generation to the next.
It is a mystery as to how it got there, or why it wasn't removed as a sapling. One theory is that a European Jay cached an acorn in a crevice, jamming it in hard and allowing it to germinate and ultimately flourish.
At one point the weight of the tree was threatening the structural integrity of the belltower and the agency in charge of historic monuments planned to remove it. The villagers protested and wanted to keep the tree. Nevertheless, the tree has been mutilated on occasions over the years, damaged by roadworks and the installation of telephone lines, which cut through some roots. Nowadays there is a document written by a tree surgeon and member of the French Arboriculture Association which instructs the authorities and relevant agencies on the care of the tree and counsels against radical pruning.
The church is 13th century, with 15th, 16th and 18th century additions. Originally the belltower had a stone spire, but it was destroyed when hit by lightning. The current roof and the brick vaulted ceilings inside the church are 19th century.
Town halls in France generally have a civil defense siren fitted to their
roof. Its purpose is to warn the population of danger. It isn't specific about
what type of danger, but in a time of national emergency, town halls would be
instructed to sound the siren. Citizens are then supposed to seek shelter and
listen to the radio for instructions and further information.
The town hall in Preuilly sur Claise, with siren on the roof on the
Once a month, at midday on the first Sunday of the month, the siren in
Preuilly sur Claise is tested. This has the double function of calling the
volunteer fire officers in to the town hall for aperatifs. Occasionally
it is used to call the fire officers to an unusually serious car accident or
fire, but normally they are called to action by more modern means these days.
The roof of Charnizay town hall, with siren between two finials.
These sirens are the descendents of the Second World War air raid sirens, and
the network was maintained and even augmented throughout the Cold War.
Nowadays the expectation is that they are more to be used locally in the case
of a natural disaster, a serious industrial accident, or a terrorist attack.
A survey conducted in 2013 revealed that 78% of the population didn't know
what they were supposed to do in response to the sirens if they sounded. There
is an existing network of somewhere between 2500 and 5000 civil defense sirens
in France (I can't find a credible exact figure for the current number). The
Minister for the Interior, the Defence Forces, Préfets and Mayors are
authorised to activate them.
They are tested once a month for a minute and 41 seconds (it takes 20 seconds
for them to reach full power, and 21 seconds to wind down, and it is estimated
that it needs one minute to be sure everyone in town has heard it). Most
places do it on the first Wednesday of the month.
If the siren does a repetition of three it means it is a real alert.
You are supposed to:
find shelter and stay there
turn off the heating, aircon and ventilation
turn on the radio or television and listen for announcements by the
check social media for official announcements
You are supposed not to:
stay in your car
stand near windows or open them
fetch your children from school (they will be taken care of by their
light a flame or the gas
take a lift (elevator)
leave your place of shelter without authorisation
telephone all your friends and family, as the network must remain available
for the emergency services
There is a specific alarm of two second blasts of a fog horn for two minutes
to warn of the imminent breaching of a dam. You have just minutes to get to
higher ground, an upper floor or on to a roof.
The end of any alert is signaled by a continuous 30 second blast on the siren.
The sirens were used in Rouen and Nice as recently as 2019, when there was a
fire at a petro-chemical factory and risk of flash flooding respectively.
The sirens have not been used for alerts to do with the Covid19 pandemic
because the sirens are only used to alert the population to sudden and
imminent danger. The system is not universally popular though, because it is
difficult to manage without causing even more panic. In any case, France has
until 2022 under a European Directive to introduce a telephonic disaster
The Tour Saint Antoine in Loches.
This network of sirens is not the earliest system installed in France for
warning of disasters. From the Middle Ages onwards there was the tradition of
'sonner le tocsin'. A tocsin is a warning peel sounded on a bell in a tower
erected or nominated by the civil authorities and used to sound the alarm
whenever danger loomed and the population needed to come into the protection
of the city or castle walls. The Tour Saint Antoine in Loches is a civil
belltower that was erected in the 16th century to sound the tocsin. A tocsin
is rung at an urgent, rapid and increasing speed from 90 to 120 beats per
I recorded the video above on Sunday 6 February, but it nearly didn't happen. As I was waiting around in front the town hall for midday and, as I thought, the siren, Jacques, the chief volunteer fire officer in town pulled up and asked me what I was doing (not in an aggressive way, just curious). I told him and he said that the firemen are not gathering (for 'manoeuvres' as he called it...) on the first Sunday of the month due to Covid. We waited around a bit to see if the siren would go off anyway. It didn't look like it was going to, so he rang the person responsible who said oops, he had forgotten, and would have to run down there immediately. We joked about him still being in bed, but sure enough, after about 10 minutes, the siren blasted out. It is deafening if you are standing right by the town hall! And I got my recording. Thank you Jacques!
The Reinette du Mans apple may not look very appetizing, but it is in fact a legendary apple amongst those who know heritage varieties. The Slow Food Foundation has listed it as one of the varieties in its Ark of Taste, a project that aims to save foods that have outstanding flavour but are in danger of disappearing. It comes from a small town to the east of Le Mans, hence the name, and was first documented in the 17th century. Its peak of production was between the World Wars, when it was in high demand in Paris.
The fruit is green, turning yellow when ripe, and the skin is covered in small grey spots. The trees flower late, so it is good in areas where spring frosts are a problem. Unfortunately it is susceptible to sooty mould, which spoils the look of the fruit and therefore its commercialisation. But apple connoisseurs know that this is just a cosmetic problem.
The apples ripen late, in October, and will keep from one harvest to the next if stored well. The flesh is firm and juicy, and very aromatic. When first picked it is eaten raw, then after it has been stored for a while, cooked and served with pork or in tarte Tatin. It holds its shape and texture when cooked, and makes nice juice.
It is rarely grown outside of Sarthe (the county around Le Mans) and Indre et Loire (the county we live in). The ones in the photos were at the market in Preuilly, grown by our local organic orchard. Sandy, who was selling them, seemed taken aback by my levels of ignorance when I asked her if they were like the Reinette du Canada grise, a popular variety for non-commercial growers like myself, and which I have in my orchard. She frowned and said 'No!' 'Completely different, no comparison!' and indicated that the Reinette du Canada grise was distinctly second rate compared to the ultra delicious and special Reinette du Mans.
The Heath Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza maculata (Fr. Orchis tacheté), with its brown spotted leaves and rose pink flowers, occurs all over Europe, found in damp open areas. I photographed this one in a trackside ditch near Cauterets in the Hautes Pyrenees, in July 2021.
We have written before about the chapel, and how approval has been granted for
the next stage of work to commence. Starting the work had been delayed (I
wonder what could have caused that), but now it is well under way.
Because it is currently a building site we haven't been in to inspect the work, so we will report on what's happening at a later date. It's good to see
that slowly slowly things are returning to normal and the project is
Quite often our village boulangerie has croissants left over from the day before. These are set out on the counter top in bags of 10 and customers are invited to buy viennoiserie de la veille for €4.50. They are ideal for making almond croissants (and in fact, this is what the almond croissants at the boulangerie will be too) and easy to make at home, fresh for breakfast.
Make a syrup with the 2 tbsp sugar and a cup of water -- combine and bring to the boil for 1 minute, then set aside to cool in a shallow bowl that is big enough to fit a croissant.
Beat together the half cup of sugar, almond meal and butter in a stand mixer.
Add the eggs one at a time and beat well to make frangipane.
Cut the croissants almost all the way through horizontally and open them up.
Dip them in the syrup so they are coated all over but not saturated.
Spread a good dollop of frangipane on the bottom half of each croissant's cut surface, close them up and put them on the baking tray.
Smear some more frangipane on top of each croissant and sprinkle them with flaked almonds.
Bake for 15 - 20 minutes.
Homemade almond croissants.
You can prepare the syrup and the frangipane the day before and keep in the fridge until you want to use it. That way you can just bake however many almond croissants you need for breakfast and have them fresh for several days in a row.
Supermarket croissants, freshly made from frozen butter dough.
You can also add a heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder to the frangipane and make chocolate almond croissants.
The Piedmont Ringlet Erebia meolans (Fr. le Moiré des fétuques) is a species restricted to the mountains of Spain, France and Italy -- the Sierras, Cantabrians, Pyrenees, Massif Central, Jura, Vosges, Alpes and Apennines. Like all alpine ringlet species it is devilishly difficult to tell apart from any of the others, and I got expert help to identify this one. The species is likely to occur in the most varied habitat of all the ringlets, and in the widest range of altitudes, anywhere from 300 to 2400 metres above sea level. I photographed this one having a little drink on a very hot day at about 2000 metres, above Cauterets in Hautes Pyrenees in July 2021.
Our water supplier is replacing old lead pipes with modern plastic ones. As a result our street has been half dug up and barricaded off around each household's town water junction. The work was supposed to take a month, according to the note we got in our letterbox, but has now gone over that.
At first the workmen went up the street and sawed through the bitument around everyone's junction. That created a lot of noise and dust (the car was covered). The resulting gravelly rectangles were surrounded with red barricades. Then they discovered that the garbage truck couldn't get down the street, so some of the rectangles were sort of filled in and the barricades moved a bit.
A couple of days ago a candy pink truck turned up and blocked the end of the street. Emblazoned across the front was the name Katarina and a phone number. Along the side it said Les Suceuses du Centre ('Suckers of Centre Region'). On the back of the truck was a huge flexible hose, which was deployed down one of the nascent holes and proceeded to suck up all the earth and clay to expose the water and sewage pipes. It couldn't cope with some of the larger rocks, so they were hauled out and put to one side.
And that's about where we are at for the moment. The water has been off a couple of times, but luckily we've been out both days. I guess it will eventually be done and the street reinstated.
The Court in Orléans has ordered that a circus must pack up and leave Blois.
Circus tent on the Champs des foires in Preuilly sur Claise.
The circus had installed themselves at the showgrounds in late January without asking permission. They didn't bother asking because the authorities in Blois would have refused them. Blois banned circuses with wild animals in 2020, and this circus has wild animal acts.
There is no national statute forbidding wild animal acts in France, so the Court ordered the circus to leave Blois on the grounds that it did not ask permission to set up there. The circus will be fined 100 euros a day for every day it overstays. The authorities are assuming that the circus will indeed leave and at this stage are not planning to send the police round there to physically evict them.
A Bactrian camel belonging to a circus, helping itself to the hedge around the recycling bins.
Basically, the circus has to leave, because a different circus is booked to arrive and put on a show that does not include animals.
Note that the photos are of a different circus not involved in this fracas, photographed in Preuilly some years ago, and just used for illustrative purposes.
On Monday we went on one of our regular walks, and because of a fortuitous
wrong turn we discovered something we may never otherwise have heard about.
In the middle of a parcel of forest just north of le Louroux there is a
clearing containing two large trees. One is an Atlantic Cedar, a tree
popular in ornamental plantings, and an enormous oak. The oak tree is called
"Le Chêne des Ajoncs" and it spans 32 metres, is 30 metres high and is 7.50
metres in circumference at 1.30 metres from the ground. These are the
measurements that were used to age it at between 500 and 600 years old. Apparently it is a hybrid between an English (Pendunculate) and an Irish (Sessile) Oak Quercus robur x Q. petraea. (This is such a common hybrid that it even has it's own scientific name -- Quercus x rosacea and many old forests are dominated by this hybrid.)
It takes 11 people to wrap their arms around the oak.
Les Ajoncs (the Gorse) appears on the Carte de l'Etat-Major (1820-1866) as a
number of buildings and ornamental garden, and on the recent IGN map as a
building. On the ground we saw no sign of any buildings, but it has to be said
we didn't actually look as we were too interested in the trees. We may have to
return and investigate buildings and the gardens.
"Ce n'est pas le plus gros et le plus vieux mais sans aucun doute
le plus beau chêne de Touraine, celui qui, tout en ayant un des plus
gros troncs, est le plus régulier, le plus sain et le plus apte à nous
rendre humblissimes devant son impressionnante stature !" (extract from the book Arbres remarquables en Touraine).
"It is neither the biggest nor the oldest but without doubt it is
the most beautiful oak tree in Touraine. With its massive trunk and
regular features, it is the healthiest and the one most likely to make us
feel very humble in the face of such grandeur!"